My goodness, IÕm taller than Guy Ritchie Š well in heels, anyway (I presume I was the only one wearing them). And as for Madonna Š to my surprise she barely came up to my chest being one of those tiny, slight women that make gals like me feel like rhinos. I know this because they were at the next table to me in Locanda Locatelli on Saturday night and stood up to leave when I was walking past. IÕm hoping the two events werenÕt linked. WhoÕd be a celebrity Š it doesnÕt look like much fun. They sat there like the magnetic north for swivelling star gawpers, diminishing visibly as though trying to make themselves even smaller so as to disappear into the upholstery.
I know how it feels, albeit not on quite the same scale. It began with the Mister and I sloping off alone for what promised to be a fine Italian meal at Giorgio LocatelliÕs new gaff on Seymour Street. Mr L has made three appearances in this column over the last year Š first at Zefferano where he earned a Michelin star, then at CecconiÕs in Mayfair where he was the consultant chef after its gastronomic relaunch and glossy refit and now again in his own place, attached to the Churchill Hotel. The swanky ambience at Locanda Locatelli is miles away from the relaxed rural charm of Zefferano and more like a beige Cecconi's with perfect lighting, comfortable swirly banquettes snaking down the middle of the room, lots of that blocky blonde wood that architects adore and the rest of us think is Formica, and faux net curtains in the form of etched glass windows. Mr L is himself a fantastic character Š all wild hair and flashing eyes and a veritable young Einstein of the kitchen, so we were hoping for a rare treat. However, the plan went awry the moment we were led to our table - a friend, and full on foodie cum restaurant PR was seated to our right. Immediately our tables were joined and instead of a tete a tete it became a kiss fest with sweeties bowling across the tablecloth like social pinball. Another critic was seated three tables away with Madonna, between us and ten minutes later in came yet another critic who was seated directly on my left. I donÕt now how Madonna felt being sandwiched between a guzzle of restaurant critics (is there a collective noun for our species) but I wasnÕt thrilledat being cordoned off in the criticÕs aruv. The rest of the evening was a farce of loud jocularity alternating with hushed whispered asides to our loved ones (have I got gravy on my chin, do we have enough money to drop them off in Richmond first, have we banished JohnnieÕs nits yet?)
Food was another mixed blessing. I had a fantastic meal from the first bite of cheese grissini to the last swipe of the pudding plate with my baby beignet Š drooling chocolate sauce from within its fragile, sugar dusted walls, with just a whisper of banana and understated jasmine ice cream. The ravioli stuffed with slivers of earthy ossobucco was suitably robust and my main course Š monkfish with a tangy walnut and caper sauce was a masterpiece requiring me to fight off all comers. Because, you see, the irritating thing about foodies is that you never get the whole plate to yourself. ItÕs forks at five paces. The Mister had spaghetti with tuna Bolognese. Giorgio explained the whole torturous process of its conception - apparently the pasta is pulled until when cut it resembles guitar stings, so disappointing then to serve it at the exact temperature mothers will recognise Š ie when eaten from their childrenÕs plate after left, untouched. Other dishes were a gently oriental breast of duck with chilli and spelt, while one of our new best friends wedged on to the end of the table had an unctuously rich quail risotto and gnocchetti which worked well with the accessorised artichoke but died a dismal, bland death alone and unaccompanied. Similarly the lamb stew with peppers and polenta was lacklustre and lacked vision. The delicious sounding pork fillet with borlotti beans and a mustard crust arrived raw and redder than a boozers nose and was quickly returned to the kitchen. Giorgio was anxious to make it again but the moment had passed and the unlucky punter passed straight on to pudding.
Desserts were more stylised than the preceding dishes, with curls, arrangements and artfully drizzled sauces Šas well as diminutively Madonna sized - though IÕm guessing she hasnÕt had sugar for decades.
Normal people end the meal with coffee but we had to have a blow by blow description of a passing criticÕs meal in automated Italian Š think of the Tube voice interspersed with menu-speak; Ōall stations to tagliatelllli/italics/Õ and youÕve got the yawningly boring picture. IÕm not going back except in mufti, when IÕm sure the place has been foodie fumigated and is guaranteed critic free.